And although they weren’t able to deliver a first ever victory over New Zealand, this was their finest display of the series by some distance.
Weir was guest of honour on an emotionally charged occasion and received the acclaim of both sets of players before kick-off.
It is six years since the former lock forward was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and he has campaigned tirelessly since to raise funds and awareness. Five years ago, on the last occasion Scotland faced the All Blacks, he strode on to the turf to deliver the match ball, accompanied by his three sons, Hamish, Angus and Ben. The crowd responded with a rousing ovation and did so again on Sunday as Weir, now in a wheelchair, presented the ball to Ritchie. Hamish, Angus and Ben, and Weir’s wife Kathy were alongside him and both teams came over to the trackside to applaud him, with both captains speaking to the former Lion.
“I said to Doddie before we went out: ‘I want to do it for you.’ And I think he would be proud of us, looking at the performance,” said Ritchie. “It’s just unfortunate we were on the wrong side of the result. We were the better team for the majority of that game.”
Scotland recovered from losing two early tries to go in at the interval 17-14 ahead and they led 23-14 at the start of the final quarter. But New Zealand found a way to win, emptying their bench and scoring two late tries to prevail 31-23.
“Disappointment is the overriding emotion,” said Ritchie. “However, personally for me there’s a lot of pride there as well. I sat here yesterday and spoke about being brave and being courageous. I think we did that extremely well. It’s pretty tough. We’ve been penalised within a metre of the line three times. It’s tough to take. If you look at the game, we certainly had more chances, so it’s pretty gutting.”
The Scotland captain had called on his side to show self-belief and take the game to their celebrated opponents, and the home team did just that, scoring 23 unanswered points between the 12th and 52nd minutes. It was the most points Scotland have scored against the All Blacks since the 62-31 defeat at Carisbrook in 1996 but, unlike then, this was a match the Scots should have won and Ritchie was left conflicted.
“Because we performed well, it’s gutting that we lost,” said the captain. “But I’m also proud of the team. It’s been our best performance, rugby wise, for a wee while. We can build on that going into next week.”
Scotland will conclude their autumn campaign when Argentina visit Murrayfield on Saturday and they will look to extract a measure of revenge from the Pumas who beat them by two Tests to one when the Scots toured South America in the summer.